The forthcoming No Time to Die, which opens April 2020, will be Daniel Craig’s final James Bond movie after 14 years in the role, though of course there will be someone to replace him because the last James Bond movie grossed nearly a billion dollars worldwide, as this new one probably will, and studio executives would literally rather piss and shit themselves in public — perhaps not at the Oscars, but definitely at a Trader Joe’s — than pass up the chance at that kind of money. So it goes, though I have one request: I hope the next James Bond is not quite so “serious.”
By “serious” I don’t mean the considered moral and aesthetic explorations of art films by directors like, say, Krzysztof Kieslowski or Agnes Varda, but the self-conscious grimness now default for 72 percent of Hollywood franchises: Fast and Furious, Star Wars, Transformers, all of the DC superhero movies and some of the Marvel ones. You know what I mean: plots that move with the unbridled, imperious momentum of a runaway train; men who don’t smile; “wry” jokes delivered like someone’s pressing a gun to the speaker’s head; all sorts of formative traumas lingering in the headspaces of characters who, in just a moment, will also drive a car into a bigger car to make it explode. Movies that telegraph “this is a serious thing, and you should take it seriously, because if you or Martin Scorsese tries to claim this isn’t serious, then we’re going to launch a news cycle you will literally never live to see the end of.”
In the 21st century, Hollywood blockbusters largely course corrected to this joyless tone following the decadent ’90s, where most action franchises were bluntly dumb as hell. 1997’s Batman and Robin had 187 “ice to see you” type puns from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze, and so a few years later we got Christian Bale’s VERY SERIOUS BATMAN VOICE. The last James Bond movie before Daniel Craig, Die Another Day, featured Madonna as a fencing instructor and a solar-powered satellite death ray — it was spiritually a ’90s movie, even if it was released in 2002. Ergo, by the time we got to 2012’s Skyfall, we learned that James Bond is the way he is — an uncommonly unstoppable superspy who has a gun in his pen and a car in his gun — because… he’s an orphan…. and also his true love was murdered (revealed in 2006’s Casino Royale), and isn’t that so sad? Don’t you feel for James Bond?
Well, perhaps, but an action blockbuster about a sexed-up secret agent who foils terrorist plots by one-eyed hams and whatever Rami Malek is doing in the new one is hardly the space to contemplate the world’s grand misfortunes. Sure, the Craig Bonds have grossed a lot, but so have all of the Bonds, when you adjust for inflation; style has less to do with it than “does this movie seem sort of good?” That’s mostly what drives people to the theaters.
So my modest appeal, to the producers who will soon pan for the next Bond — be it Idris Elba, Tom Hardy, or any number of anonymously handsome British 20-somethings — would be to reverse course back to something a little goofier, a franchise less fussy about the potential driving traumas given the inherent ridiculousness of the premise. More scenes where James Bond’s spymaster Q is like, “here is an exploding briefcase that also does your taxes,” less scenes where Bond broods about byzantine global quagmires. A little more British whimsy, a little less torture. Maybe some smiles.
This is a franchise that features iconic titles such as Octopussy and Moonraker. Denise Richards once played a nuclear scientist named Christmas Jones, which is unforgettable. They can stand to camp it up a bit more.
You know which movies everyone seems to like a lot? The modern Mission Impossible films, which combine breakneck action and original set pieces with almost no psychological exploration, thank God. It’s all Tom Cruise jumping out of planes and riding Vespas through Rome and fighting shadowy assassins in night clubs. They rule! We never find out that he’s driven to fight bad guys because he didn’t know his dad, or whatever. It’s not that difficult to envision a propulsive, emotionally low stakes thrill ride. It’s just James Bond. We don’t need to learn about life.